Sunday, December 2, 2012

Passing time on a warm December afternoon


A re-reading of Truman Capote's last, unfinished novel, "Answered Prayers", kept me busy for most of an unseasonably sunny afternoon on the ranch. Afterwards, I retreated to my covered patio table to sip iced tea and gaze at the prairie and the woods in the distance. I needed a moment of serenity to return to the present and leave behind New York City's 1960's cafe society to which I had escaped for several hours.

A commotion to the left of me in the pasture broke my reflection on my most recent time travel to an exotic destination, a pastime I acquired as a youth when I discovered my family's tiny home library held an astonishing collection of books by authors like John O'Hara and Daphne Du Maurier who would tell me stories I wouldn't hear anywhere else in Childress, Texas.

There on the ranch, right before my eyes I saw two bulls and a cow engaging in exactly the type of behavior mentioned by P.B. Jones,  the narrator in Capote's novel.

As the two bulls engaged in a head-butting contest, one of the cows, approached the larger bull and mounted him. "A menage a trois," I muttered. Clearly, cafe society, as Capote so artfully captured it to everyone's great regret -- probably including his own eventually -- enjoyed no monopoly on decadent behavior. The wealthy and privileged just did what came naturally, and it usually involved sexual escapades.

Anyone who loves literature and art knows that homosexuality, bisexuality, infidelity, polygamy and just about everything else has existed and thrived throughout time. Writers told their stories, and as long as no one recognized the characters, they generally avoided a public backlash, except during situations involving censorship based on morality.

In Capote's case, he apparently felt compelled to write about society in a way which left no doubt at all about where he got the ideas. It's one thing for everyone to know what happened and who did it, but God help the writer who documents it.

I had returned to my collection of Capote books for a quick trip back in time after reading the December 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, which included a story by Sam Kashner about Capote's "social suicide note," as the excerpt, "La Cote Basque" has come to be known. The magazine also included, "Yachts and Things," which is believed to be yet another chapter heretofore unpublished but intended by Capote for the book. In it he writes about a cruise he took on a private yacht in 1966 with Washington Post publisher Kathrine Graham.

Capote, who had enjoyed the praise of cafe society and benefited handsomely from it for decades before the first publication of the excerpt of the book in Esquire in 1975, quickly found himself to be an outcast and dependent on alcohol and drugs to soothe the pain. He died spiritually broken in 1984, his talent wasted and in ruins.

It was the price he paid for telling the truth about society.

He never delivered the final manuscript for "Answered Prayers," which he intended to be his greatest masterpiece. His publisher, Random House, printed all of the chapters that could be found at the time in 1987.





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